Bishop Athanasius Schneider: The Church Militant
19 May 2018
The Church on earth and its essentially militant characteristics
Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Rome Life Forum, May 17 2018
When there is no battle, there is no Christendom. When there is no battle, there is no true Church of God, no true Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council teaches us: “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity” (Gaudium et spes, 37). This dramatic situation of “the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19; cf. 1 Pet 5:8) makes man’s life a battle (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 409).
The Word of God teaches us: “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life whereunto thou art called” (1 Tim. 6:12). The Christian life is indeed a warfare. Saint Paul wrote that “we wrestle” against the powers of darkness. “Our battle is not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the meaning of the biblical term “world” and “present evil age”: “Our Lord consoles the disciples by using himself as an example of one who has suffered the persecution of oppressors, saying: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15: 18). And so our Lord foretells that they will be hated: “You will be hated by all nations” (Mt 24:9); “Blessed are you when men hate you” (Lk 6:22). This thought is a great consolation for the just so that they can courageously endure persecutions. According to Augustine, the members should not consider themselves greater than the Head, nor refuse to be part of his body by being unwilling to endure with their Head the hatred of the world. (Tract. in Io., 87, 2). The world can have two meanings. First a good meaning, for those who lead a good life in the world: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). Secondly, it can have an evil sense, meaning those who love the world: “The whole world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And so the whole world hates the whole world, because those who love the world, and they are spread throughout the whole world, hate the whole world, that is, the Church of the good, which has been established throughout the whole world. Now he mentions a second point for their consolation, and this is based on the reason for their being hated. First, our Lord gives the reason why some are loved by the world; secondly, why the apostles are hated by the world. The reason why some are loved by the world is that they are like the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own” (John 15:19). And thus the world, that is, those who love the world, love those who love the world. Accordingly, our Lord says, “If you were of the world”, that is, followers of the world, “the world would love its own”, because you would be its own and like to it: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me” (John 7:7). “They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them” (I John 4:5). Now he gives the reason why the world hates the apostles, which is because they are unlike the world. He says, “but because you are not of the world, the world hates you” (John 15: 19). (Expositio in evangelium beati Ioannis, II pars, cap. 15, lectio 4).
The Baltimore Catechism teaches us: “We are called soldiers of Jesus Christ to indicate how we must resist the attacks of our spiritual enemies and secure our victory over them by following and obeying Our Lord. We have good reason never to be ashamed of the Catholic Faith because it is the Old Faith established by Christ and taught by His Apostles; it is the Faith for which countless Holy Martyrs suffered and died; it is the Faith that has brought true civilization, with all its benefits, into the world, and it is the only Faith that can truly reform and preserve public and private morals. We should know the Chief Mysteries of Faith and the duties of a Christian…, because as one cannot be a good soldier without knowing the rules of the army to which he belongs and understanding the commands of his leader, so one cannot be a good Christian without knowing the laws of the Church and understanding the commands of Christ. By the expression “these evil days” we mean the present age or century in which we are living, surrounded on all sides by unbelief, false doctrines, bad books, bad example and temptation in every form.” (3 part, lesson 15).
In the time of the Fathers of the Church the Christians were aware to be spiritual soldiers of Christ and to fight for the truth even at the risk of one’s life. Tertullian wrote: “We were called to the warfare of the living God, even then when we made our answer according to the words of the Sacrament, i.e. the baptismal vow of obedience to Christ” (Mart., 3, 1) and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem told to the catechumens: “You are to be enrolled in the army of the Great King” (Catech. 3, 3).
The Christian duty to fight against the sin, the errors and the temptations of the world, includes also the fight against the errors inside the Church, i.e. the fight against heresy and ambiguity in doctrine.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola is one of the most eloquent teachers of the truth about the Church militant. He writes in his book of the Spiritual Exercises: “Consider the war that Jesus Christ came to bring from Heaven to earth.” People are used to the idea that Our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring peace. Yet St. Ignatius with all naturality begins the meditation by saying “Consider that war that Jesus Christ came to bring from Heaven to earth.”
A true Catholic spiritual knight of 20th century, as it is Plinio Correia de Oliveira, a Brazilian layman who spent all his life in defending the Holy Mother Church from the spiritual attacks and infiltration of the unchristian spirit of revolution, modernism and communism said: “Every man is born a soldier, although not every soldier will use his arms. Yes, all men are born soldiers because, as the Scripture states, Militia est vita hominis super terram [The life of man upon earth is a warfare] (Job 7:1). Our life is a fight, and this is how we must consider it first and foremost. A man is born a soldier at the first moment he sees the natural light. Then when he is baptized, he receives the light of grace and is born a second time, now to the supernatural life, becoming a soldier in its defense. Further, the Church has a special Sacrament that confirms a man as a soldier in the full sense of the word. It is the sacrament of Confirmation. Not every soldier uses his weapons on the battlefield, but whoever does so is privileged. Since the duty of the soldier is to fight, when he takes up arms to enter battle he becomes privileged. Imagine a painter who does not paint, a musician who cannot make music, a singer who cannot sing, a professor who is unable to give classes, a diplomat prevented from engaging in politics.” (Plinio Correia de Oliveira).
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Catholic Church, comes asking us to join His Holy War inside the Church against progressivism, and inside the State, against communism. And He appeals to us to fight and not be soft or indifferent to this struggle, but to wage battle with all our soul.” “Of course, St. Ignatius does not speak about progressivism. Since his meditation is destined for all times, he refers generically to the world, the devil and the flesh, which are the causes of all errors at all times, in which they simply change name. In his time, the error was Protestantism, supported by people who called themselves Catholics but who were deep down Protestants working for Protestantism inside the Catholic Church. In the civil sphere, those persons tended to eliminate all social and political inequalities. In other words, they were forerunners of the French Revolution.” (Plinio Correia de Oliveira).
We possess very apt and impressive affirmations of the Popes of the modern times about the essential militant characteristic of the Church. Pope Leo XIII taught: “The enemy forces, inspired by the evil spirit, ever wage war on the Christian name. They join forces in this endeavor with certain groups of men whose purpose is to subvert divinely revealed truths and to rend the very fabric of Christian society with disastrous dissent. Indeed, how much damage these cohorts, as it were, have inflicted on the Church is well-known. And yet, the spirit of all previous groups hostile to Catholic institutions has come to life again in that group called the Masonic sect, which, strong in manpower and resources, is the leader in a war against anything sacred.” (Leo XIII, Encyclical Inimica vis, 8 December 1892).
“To refrain from doing battle for Jesus Christ amounts to fighting against Him; He Himself assures us “He will deny before His Father in heaven those who shall have refused to confess Him on earth” (Luke 9:26)” (Leo XIII, Encyclical Sapientiae christianae, 43).
“The enemies of the Church have for their object – and they hesitate not to proclaim it, and many among them boast of it – to destroy outright, if possible, the Catholic religion, which alone the true religion. With such a purpose in and they shrink from nothing, for they are fully conscious that the more faint-hearted those who withstand them become, the more easy will it be to work out their wicked will. Therefore, they who cherish the “prudence of the flesh” and who pretend to be unaware that every Christian ought to be a valiant soldier of Christ; they who would faro obtain the rewards owing to conquerors, while they are leading the lives of cowards, untouched in the fight, are so far from thwarting the onward march of the evil – disposed that, on the contrary, they even help it forward.” (ibid., 34).
Saint Pius X describes the real situation of the world at the beginning of the 20thcentury as being harshly hostile to Christ and His truth: “Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combating the dogmas of the faith, in brazen effort to uproot and destroy all relations between man and God! While, on the other hand, and this according to the same apostle is the distinguishing mark of Antichrist, man has with infinite temerity put himself in the place of God, raising himself above all that is called God; in such wise that although he cannot utterly extinguish in himself all knowledge of God, he has contemned God’s majesty and, as it were, made of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored. “He sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God” (II. Thess. ii., 2). (Pius X, Encyclical E supremo apostolatu, 4 October 1903, 4-7). “We are of the opinion that the shining example of Christ’s soldiers has far greater value in the winning and sanctifying of souls than the words of profound treatises.” (Pius X, Encyclical Editae saepe, 26 May 1910, 4).
Pope Pius XI teaches us: “Unbelievers and enemies of the Catholic faith, blinded by presumption, may indeed constantly renew their violent attacks against the Christian name, but in wresting from the bosom of the militant Church those whom they put to death, they become the instruments of their martyrdom and of their heavenly glory. No less beautiful than true are the words of St. Leo the Great: “The religion of Christ, founded on the mystery of the Cross, cannot be destroyed by any sort of cruelty; persecutions do not weaken, they strengthen the Church. The field of the Lord is ever ripening with new harvests, while the grains shaken loose by the tempest take root and are multiplied.” (Homily at the Canonization of John Fisher and Thomas More, 19 May 1935).
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) in an address during the Eucharistic Congress in 1976 in Philadelphia in the United States of America said: “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously”. Pope John Paul II he indicated the spiritual root of this conflict: “This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man’s moral equilibrium.” (Address on May 24, 1987 at Monte Gargano).
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the necessity of the battle with the evil in our days: “Today the phrase ecclesia militans is somewhat out of fashion but in fact we can understand ever more so that it is true, that it contains within it the truth. We see how evil wishes to dominate in the world and that it is necessary to fight against evil. We see that it does so in so many ways: cruelty, through the different forms of violence, but even disguised as good and thereby undermining the moral foundations of society. St Augustine said that all history is a struggle between two loves: love of self to the point of despising God; and love of God to the point of despising oneself, in martyrdom. We are caught up in this struggle.” (Speech to the Cardinals, 21 May 2012).
We possess an impressive text from the 3rd century, which makes an ardent appeal to remain always a good soldier of Christ: “Consider this fairly with me: When has Christ need of your aid? Now, when the wicked one has sworn war against His bride; or in the time to come, when He shall reign victorious, having no need of further help? Is it not evident to anyone who has even the least understanding, that it is now? Therefore, with all good-will hasten in the time of the present necessity to do battle on the side of this good King, whose character it is to give great rewards after victory.” (Epistola Clementis ad Iacobum 4).
Our weapons are the weapons of justice, and these are the weapons in first place of prayer and of a saintly life, the weapons of the spiritual help of the Holy Angels, the weapons of the sacred science, of the sacred apologetics, the weapons of righteous and honest individual and collective protests against the de-christianisation and moral degradation of the society.
We do urgently need a new “Enchiridion militia christianae”, a handbook of the Christian spiritual battle, a book which the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote in the beginning of the 16th century. We do need a new apology with the title: “The triumph of the Holy See and of the Church against the attacks of the innovators”, a book, which the future Pope Gregory XVI wrote in 1799 during the Masonic attacks of the French Revolution against the Church.
Already in 1946 Pope Pius XII made the following very apt and realistic analysis of the spiritual situation of the world and the Church in our times: “The subject, against which the adversary directs his assaults in our days, openly or insidiously, is not more, as it was usually in the past, the one or the other particular item of doctrine or discipline, but the whole of the faith and Christians morals up to its ultimate consequences. It’s a matter of a complete yes or of a complete no. In such real circumstances a true Catholic must remain all the more firmly and securely on the ground of his faith and demonstrate this with his deeds” (Discourse to the youth of the Italian Catholic Action, April 20, 1946).
Blessed John Henry Newman made the following encouraging statement about the triumph of the Church in midst of the battle against the evil and the world: “It is no new thing then with the Church, in a time of confusion or of anxiety, when offences abound, and the enemy is at her gates, that her children, far from being dismayed, or rather glorying in the danger, as vigorous men exult in trials of their strength—it is no new thing, I say, that they should go forth to do her work, as though she were in the most palmy days of her prosperity. … We have upon us the omens of success in the recollections of the past; we read upon our banners the names of many an old field of battle and of glory; we are strong in the strength of our fathers, and we mean to do, in our humble measure, what Saints have done before us. … It needs no heroism in us to face such a time as this, and to make light of it; for we are Catholics. We have the experience of eighteen hundred years. … It is not one or two or a dozen defeats, if we had them, which will reverse the majesty of the Catholic Name” (Discourses to Mixed Congregations, Discourse 12. Prospects of the Catholic Missioner).
As soldiers of Christ every Catholic should be always conscious of the fact that he belongs to the army of the winners, because “Christus vincit”, and as Saint John Chrysostom concisely formulated: “It is easier to delete the sun, than to destroy the Church” (Hom. In Is. 7). May the following exhortation of the Saint John Chrysostom give us courage and new zeal in the holy battle for Our Lord and His Church in these dark and tempestuous times: “No man can part that which God has joined together. If, speaking of man and wife, He says: “On this account a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh; for that which God has joined together man shall not separate” (Math. 19: 6). If you cannot dissolve marriage, how much less shall you be able to break up the Church of God. You may fight her, you will not be able to harm the object of your attack. But whilst you make me more illustrious, you are undermining your own strength by fighting against me. It is hard for you to kick against a sharp goad. You do not take the edge off it, but you make your own feet bloody; and the waves do not break through the rock, but are dissolved in foam. There is nothing more powerful than the Church, man; give up fighting her, lest she overpower your strength. Wage not war against heaven. If you fight a man, you conquer or are conquered. But if you fight the Church, you cannot conquer. For God is stronger than all. “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor. 10:22) Are we stronger than He? Who will venture to subvert the order which God has established? You know not His power. He looks down upon the earth and causes it to tremble. He commands, and that which was shaken becomes firm. If He can establish in peace a city torn by factions, how much more is He able to re-establish the Church! The Church is stronger than heaven. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Math. 24:35). What words? “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Math. 16: 18). If you distrust words, believe in facts. How many tyrants have wished to get the better of the Church! How many frying-pans, and furnaces, and fangs of wild animals, and sharp swords have there not been! Yet they have not succeeded. Where are the oppressors? Silence and oblivion have passed over them. But where is the Church? It is more dazzling than the sun. Their deeds are no more, hers are immortal. Now, if being few they were not conquered, how will you get the better of them, now that the world is filled with the service of God? “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass” (Math. 24:35) (Homilia ante exilium, 1-2).
In the holy Baptism according to the traditional rite of the Roman Church we have been signed with seven crosses in order to be always reminded that the Christian is inseparably united with the Cross of Our Lord, in order to be spiritually protected and in order to lead a life of the holy battle for the Lord with the invincible sign of His cross. We were signed on the forehead to accept the cross of the Lord; we were signed on the ears to listen the Divine precepts; we were signed on the eyes to see the clarity of God; we were signed on the nose to smell the sweetness of Christ; we were signed on the mouth to speak the words of life; we were signed on the chest to believe in God and we were signed on the shoulders to take upon us the yoke of the service of Christ.
The most powerful help in our personal life as soldiers of Christ and in the life of the entire militant Church is the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother if God and She is the winner in all the battles of the Lord. To Her we turn ourselves praying:
“August Queen of Heaven, sovereign queen of Angels, you who at the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we beseech you humbly, send your holy legions so that, on your orders and by your power, they will track down demons, fight them everywhere, curb their audacity and plunge them into the abyss. Who can be compared to God? Oh good and tender Mother, you will always be our love and our hope. Oh divine Mother, send the Holy Angels and Archangels to defend me and to keep the cruel enemy far from me. Holy Angels and Archangels defend us, protect us. Amen.”